by Dan Micklethwaite
The tabletop’s pocked and round, roughly, like your average workaday asteroid. Satellite. He strokes his hand across it, every morning, as he thinks that. Claims it. Colonises. His papers are flags that he sets in the rock, and they flutter and shift when other astronauts pass.
He weighs them down with a coffee cup. Demonstrates that coffee has an extra-gravitational pull. Thinks it a pity that science isn’t really his field. Has been having more and more thoughts about such matters of late.
About physics, as it pertains to spaceflight. Space exploration.
And, in doing so, has been demonstrating also that coffee is fuel.
Every morning, he comes here to buy one.
To this café, a few small steps from his postgraduate flat.
Every morning, he drinks coffee and thinks: Today will be the day I make the giant leap. Thinks: Today will be the day I break this dissertation open.
And then he tries to focus on said dissertation, and on all attendant research and reading; on making the requisite notes, and picking out relevant quotes, and footnoting them properly on this LCD screen.
But some mornings, in the different kind of space that opens as he takes pen from page, or fingers from keys, and raises the coffee cup up to his lips, he finds himself thinking of Armstrong. And Aldrin. And Conrad, Bean, Shepard, Mitchell, Scott, Irwin, Young, Duke, Cernan, Schmitt.
He thinks about how it must have been for them, to stand upon the moon.
Wonders if, for them, it was anything like this.
His fingers stroke again across the pockmarks, and they are cold, and inside he is warm, he is part of a programme much more worthy than himself, and he tells himself to feel like an astronaut.
That academia is the world around which his own satellite flashes.
His papers rustle and flutter as other astronauts pass. He knows them, feels a kinship with them. Their satellites all flashing around academia, too.
Every day, he meets some of them for lunch. With which he takes another coffee. They discuss their research, their findings, or lack thereof.
In such close quarters, it pays to be friendly. We come in peace. It pays as well to believe what academia tells you, that all your work matters. That your flags and your asteroids will make a difference to mankind.
But the other space is there again, when he buys another coffee, hunkered in that café, in the early afternoon.
Demonstrating that coffee’s extra-gravitational pull sometimes overruns its usefulness as fuel.
He starts to think about conspiracy theorists, about the naysayers who in turn thought about Armstrong and Aldrin and called bullshit on that. Who said they couldn’t possibly have gone there and wandered around. That they couldn’t have planted a flag on the moon. Colonised it. Claimed it as their own.
Because the flag seems to move, and there is no wind on the moon.
And he picks up his pen and tries to concentrate again on his own giant leap. And he strokes and then taps his fingers on the surface of the table and the cold is becoming distracting, and he isn’t sure if the warmth inside of him is simply another effect of the coffee or not.
He isn’t sure what it means that other astronauts pass.
That his papers move. And their papers move, too.
He knows some things about space – not this other kind of space but average workaday space – even though science isn’t really his field. He knows about vacuums and gravity, and that asteroids and satellites slingshot through the one, despite/because of the other, and that each differs in orbit, by whatever slim fraction, from the circling of any other heavenly mass.
He knows about wider universal problems as well, such as entropy.
He knows some things about distraction, too.
Every afternoon, there comes a point at which his attention and his confidence begin, in unison, to stutter. Which is how he knows about entropy. And vacuums. The times when he takes his pen off the page or his fingers off the keys becoming more frequent, his certainty of making that giant leap becoming, correspondingly, less.
He’s been having more and more thoughts about science of late, even though it isn’t really his field. About Armstrong and Aldrin and the rest. And about the naysayers, the conspiracy theorists, as well.
Though he doesn’t know how they know there is no wind on the moon. Because if they don’t believe anybody has been there, then they clearly haven’t been there to see for themselves.
The more he thinks, the more he thinks they don’t know what they’re talking about. The more he thinks they’ve just had too much coffee, and instead of refuelling them, it’s weighing them down.
He knows what it’s like to have too much coffee.
He knows as well what it’s like to be an astronaut. He thinks.
He is close to certain that people have walked on the moon.
He has to be, he thinks, or else he won’t make his own giant leap.
But he doesn’t know how many of those astronauts ever drank coffee. Too much or otherwise.
He doesn’t know if Neil Armstrong ever drank too much coffee, that is.
Or, in truth, if he knew what he was talking about, either. When he said those famous few words.
Or if he spent his brief time on the moon being distracted by the texture of the rock, and by the miniature Earth in the absolute distance; trying to ignore the countdown, body-clock, analogue, that told him how soon he would leave.
And if it hurt him, afterwards, the fact of that leaving.
And if he ever thought about wider universal problems, such as entropy.
Such as having only the memory and the film, and the naysayers, then, to remind him of the flutter and shift of that flag.
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